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Five confirmed coronavirus patients flew abroad for vacations – report

Passengers not yet informed they need to quarantine; police say problem is Health Ministry not transferring information on virus carriers to border authority

Passengers waiting to board a flight at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 13, 2020. (Flash90)
Passengers waiting to board a flight at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 13, 2020. (Flash90)

Five confirmed coronavirus carriers recently flew out of Israel for vacations abroad and were not stopped at the airport because border control authorities are not being updated with details of people actively carrying the virus, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

The incidents only came to light when health maintenance organization representatives tried to contact the patients in order to receive updates on their conditions.

Passengers on at least one of the flights have yet to be informed that they may have been exposed to the virus and now need to go into quarantine, the report said.

In one case, an HMO worker called a couple who are confirmed carriers as a routine follow-up and they told him they had flown to Serbia for a vacation.

In another, an HMO representative called the family of a child who had tested positive for the virus to confirm that the family had all self-isolated for two weeks, as required by the Health Ministry. But the representative discovered that the entire family had flown to Anatolia in Turkey, also on vacation.

HMOs have informed authorities of the incidents, but according to the report, authorities have not yet been able to contact the travelers.

The virus carriers were able to leave the country as the Health Ministry is not transferring information about active virus carriers to police or to the Population, Immigration and Border Control Authority, the report said.

As a result, border officials have no way of knowing if passengers have the coronavirus.

A senior official in one HMO told the station that the issue is raised at every meeting between HMOs and authorities, but so far the situation has not been corrected.

The Israel Police told Channel 12 that the matter is entirely the responsibility of the Health Ministry and the border authority, but noted that law enforcement officials had already approached the Health Ministry about the issue.

The Health Ministry is entrusted with providing patient details to relevant authorities and “is supposed to transfer to the border and immigration authority the information without police arbitration,” police said.

Police clarified that while the border authority can fine those who break quarantine, it is the Health Ministry that is responsible for the data.

Police said they had offered to assist the ministry in developing an interface and control center to resolve the issue while also taking responsibility for transferring the information, but the offer was rejected.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been several incidences of virus carriers, including those who were aware they should be in quarantine, boarding flights and causing all of the other passengers, and the crew, to go into isolation. There have also been numerous incidents of quarantine violations within the country.

Israel is battling a second wave of the virus that has seen daily infection rates spiral and prompted the government to order a three-week national lockdown that began last Friday. As of Tuesday, there were 51,338 active virus patients, according to Health Ministry figure, with 668 in serious condition. The death toll stands as 1,285.

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